Destroyer: Labyrinthitis Album Review | Pitchfork

June 19, 2022 - Uncategorized

Like most Destroyer albums since 2011’s blearily triumphant Kaputt, Labyrinthitis takes the smooth and sophisticated studio-centric pop of the late 1970s and ’80s as its musical center. Certain tracks would fit right in on Kaputt, where Bejar first toned down his usual yelpy verbosity, becoming one with the strung-out grandeur of the arrangements: songs you could put on to heighten the languorous mood of a dinner party that stretches long into the night, their essential strangeness only revealing itself with focused listening. More often—as in the ending of “June,” and the explosion at the center of “Tintoretto, It’s for You”—Labyrinthitis delights in rupturing the elegance of its own facade. With four-on-the-floor rhythms and pulsating basslines, songs like “Eat the Wine, Drink the Bread” and “It Takes a Thief” gesture in the general direction of dancing, but their tempos are just a hair too frantic to support the act itself. Try moving your limbs in time and you might end up looking like a pedestrian in an old-fashioned newsreel, jumpy and unnatural, moving faster than the frame rate’s ability to keep up.

Bejar and his collaborators recorded Labyrinthitis remotely, and its impossible lushness is surely the result of some tinkering from producer/multi-instrumentalist John Collins, who assembled these isolated tracks into an album. Despite this, it has the unmistakable feeling of having been performed by an actual band, more so than any Destroyer album since 2015’s Poison Season. The music’s sense of churning aliveness comes largely thanks to drummer Joshua Wells, who brings delirious high drama to every thwack of the snare, treating even the disco-inflected numbers as if they were just power ballads played way faster than usual. His fills provide the unambiguous emotional peaks that Bejar’s songs so often withhold: crashing triumphantly in midway through “It’s in Your Heart Now,” cascading across the sunlit bridge of “All My Pretty Dresses,” charging the instrumental breaks of “It Takes a Thief” with raw adrenaline.

Listening to Labyrinthitis feels like how it might feel to be a Thomas Pynchon character: journeying circuitously toward a goal you can’t quite apprehend, accosted by signs and symbols that may be of world-historical importance if they don’t turn out to be nonsense, haunted and comforted by the intuition that all this could easily be a big joke. “Tintoretto” is loaded with semiotic baggage, going back as far as the year 1518 and as recently as Bejar’s days as a young hipster, and it’s also just a word that sounds cool before a big synth breakdown. You have to make your own way through these songs, decide what’s important and what’s just set dressing, knowing your ideas might diverge significantly from the next listener’s, or even Bejar’s own. For me, the album is at its clearest when language recedes and the sound takes over, as in the long, fragile fadeout of “The States,” which is like the music icicles might make if they were capable of singing. I find a similar clarity in the title track, a collage of synthesizer, cut-up singing, and a young child’s nonverbal speech. Listen in the right mood and it is almost unbearably tender. But you’re lying to yourself if you think you can tell me what it means.

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